By MIKE SMITH
If this year’s veteran crop of Rye Neck baseball proved anything, it’s that talent—and chemistry—can carry a team to the greatest of heights. As Rye Neck’s softball players look ahead to next spring, they might be in for a similar fate.
This year, with just two seniors on the roster, the Panthers went 18-5 and earned a berth in the Class B final game, where some bad luck and an injury to starting catcher Sam Yanuzzi doomed them to a 9-0 loss against the six-time section champs Valhalla. Although the Panthers and backup catcher Rosella Salanitro battled valiantly, it wasn’t enough to unseat the dominant team on the Class B landscape.
“Sam getting hurt took the wind out of our sails,” coach Joan Spedafino said. “But, also, we didn’t have that timely hitting and I think, in the past, sometimes luck has been on the side of Valhalla.”
Next year, the Panthers are hoping to write a different story.
The Panthers will lose just one starter, outfielder Leah Haviland, and return the bulk of a team that competed against some of the top talent in the area, regardless of school size.
“I was extremely proud of the way we played this year,” Spedafino said. “The teams we picked up on the schedule were mostly AA and A teams and we won games with people making adjustments and relying on a number of girls throughout the year.”
Chief among the returnees will be seniors Nicole Morgan and Briana Cefaloni, as well as hurler Diana King, who continues to be one of the dominant forces in Section I, racking up more than 500 strikeouts in her career so far. King and Yanuzzi will once again form the Panthers’ battery, and Spedafino believes the two will benefit from another year of working together.
“[Assistant coach] Frank [Spedafino] calls the pitches and Sam does a great job blocking everything back there,” Spedafino said. “And, as the season went on, her throws to second were quicker too. When Diana leaves, she will be a great mentor for whoever steps up behind her.”
Spedafino said that, while around five or six girls will play softball this summer, most will be gearing up for their fall sports, which will keep them in shape for when they hit the diamond next spring.
“[They’re playing] volleyball, and field hockey,” she said. With a school as small as Rye Neck, a lot of the girls are busy during the year.”